What Are the Most Common AVM Symptoms?

There are common symptoms associated with an arteriovenous malformation in the brain. If you experience the following symptoms, be sure to follow up with an experienced neurosurgeon.

  • A headache
  • Numbness or muscle weakness
  • Changes in vision
  • Hearing disturbances
  • Loss of coordination
  • Seizures
  • Problems with memory and/or focus

Understanding AVM Symptoms and Diagnosis

You are clearly looking for answers. An arteriovenous malformation (AVM) will not always cause symptoms, but it certainly can, particularly if it occurs within the brain. If you are concerned you may have an AVM because of the symptoms you are experiencing, it is important to seek out the advice of an experienced neurosurgeon right away. To help you guide your next steps, the following information outlines the most common AVM symptoms, as well as what to do if you suspect AVM and how a diagnosis is made.

What is an AVM?

The body’s circulatory system is made up of different types of blood vessels which operate in a very organized fashion. Blood flows in one direction, delivering oxygen to the tissues and returning to the lungs for more, all driven by the pumping action of the heart. Blood moves systematically from the arterial system to the venous system, and this particular order is what makes the system work.

An AVM is a tangle of blood vessels that have not formed properly. As a result, blood cannot flow through properly. This is a risk of pressure building up and the vessels bursting. There is also a risk of lack of oxygen that can lead to the AVM symptoms that some patients experience, discussed further below. Following a diagnosis, your doctor may recommend treatment to help resolve your symptoms and prevent further damage, including a dangerous hemorrhage.

What Are Common AVM Symptoms?

Though not every patient will experience AVM symptoms, recognizing what they are can be important clues in your diagnosis. The symptoms are similar to those experienced during a stroke, which is another condition in which oxygen cannot reach the brain as it should. Common AVM symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Numbness or muscle weakness
  • Changes in vision
  • Hearing disturbances
  • Loss of coordination
  • Seizures
  • Problems with memory and/or focus

What Should You Do if You Suspect AVM?

If you feel like you are experiencing AVM symptoms, it is important you seek out an experienced neurosurgeon in the tri-state area. Because the symptoms of an AVM can be similar to other medical conditions, including a stroke, it is important to consult with an experienced doctor who can help guide you through the diagnosis and, ultimately, the treatment planning process. If your doctor suspects you may have an AVM, then he will order further testing, as outlined in the next section.

How is AVM Diagnosed?

There are tests your doctor can order if he or she suspects you have an AVM because of your symptoms. These can be used to confirm an AVM diagnosis. Interestingly, some patients may have these tests ordered for an entirely unrelated reason and the doctor incidentally finds the AVM. These patients often do not experience symptoms and would not know of the AVM otherwise.

The tests used to confirm a diagnosis of AVM include:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – imaging that can provide a view of soft tissues and bones
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) – similar to an MRI, but provides a detailed view of blood vessels
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan – provides 3D imaging using x-rays
  • Catheter cerebral angiogram – the use of dye to image and evaluate blood vessels in the brain
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) – a way to measure the brain’s electrical activity

The results of these tests can give your doctor more information to definitively diagnose or rule out an AVM. Again, it is important to work with someone in northern NJ who understands AVM and can ensure you receive an accurate diagnosis.

How is AVM Treated?

If your neurosurgeon confirms a diagnosis of AVM, he or she will work with you to develop a treatment plan based on your individual condition and personal health factors. Some patients will not require immediate treatment and can simply be monitored. Other potential treatment options include traditional surgery to remove or correct the malformation, embolization to block blood flow from the area, and Gamma Knife radiosurgery. Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a minimally invasive, advanced form of radiation therapy that can also be used to eliminate your AVM but without the need for surgery or a hospital stay.

Finding Answers to Your Questions

At this point, if you are experiencing any of the above-listed symptoms, it is important to consult with an experienced doctor as soon as you can. The brain is a delicate area of the body that requires a constant supply of oxygen and other nutrients. If  you have AVM symptoms or have any other reason to suspect you may have an AVM, reach out to an experienced doctor. He or she will discuss your symptoms with you, order appropriate diagnostic tests and will be able to help you through the diagnosis process. Continue to educate yourself as you learn more about your condition, whatever it may be. Self-education is a powerful way to set your mind at ease, and working with an experienced doctor is one way to ensure your questions will be answered.

Dorothea Altchul, MD
Dorothea Altchul, MD
Dr. Dorothea Altschul, Clinical Director of Neurointerventional Neurosurgery at The Valley Hospital, is board certified in neurology and vascular neurology, and CAST-certified in neuroendovascular surgery. At the Gamma Knife Center, Dr. Altschul serves as a specialist for treating patients with arteriovenous malformations or AVM, and other vascular malformations.

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